Skip to main content

Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

See other formats

games he was always fair and scrupulously just, seeing that
each, of his playmates got his or her full share of office-holding.
This perhaps is conclusive evidence that 'the child is father to
the man' and that Poincare was constitutionally incapable of
understanding the simplest principle of administration, which
his cousin Raymond applied intuitively.
Poincare's biography was written hi great detail by his fellow
countryman Gaston Darboux (1842-1917), one of the leading
geometers of modern times, in 1913 (the year following Poin-
care's death). Something may have escaped the present writer,
but it seems that Darboux, after having stated that Poincare's
mother 'coming from a family in the Meuse district whose
[the mother's] parents lived in Arrancy, was a very good person,
very active and very intelligent*, blandly omits to mention her
maiden name. Can it be possible that the French took over the
doctrine of ftthe three big K?s' - noted in connexion with Dede-
kind - from their late instructors after the kuitural drives of
Germany into France in 1870 and 1914? However, it can be
deduced from an anecdote told later by Darboux that the
family name may have been Lannois. \Ve learn that the mother
devoted her entire attention to the education of her two
young children, Henri and his younger sister (name not men-
tioned). The sister was to become the wife of fimile Boutronx
and the mother of a mathematician (who died young).
Owing partly to his mother's constant care, Poincare's mental
development as a child was extremely rapid. He learned to talk
very early, but also very badly at first because he thought moie
rapidly than he could get the words out. From infancy his
motor co-ordination was poor. "When he learned to write it was
discovered that he was ambidextrous and that he could write
or draw as badly with his left hand as with his right. Poincar6
never outgrew this physical awkwardness. As an item of some
interest in this connexion it may be recalled that when Poineaie*
was acknowledged as the foremost mathematician and leading
popularizer of science of his time he submitted to the Binet
tests and made such a disgraceful showing that, had lie bees
judged as a child instead of as the famous mathematician he
was, he would have been rated - by the tests - as an imbecile,